BBC BLOGS - Newsnight: Mark Urban
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I'm reviewing the situation on Iran

Mark Urban | 22:11 UK time, Monday, 1 February 2010

Journalists love writing those "I told you so" pieces. Newspapers will often "rag out" their original piece to demonstrate their foresight.

Here, I too will admit to having linked back to some earlier pearls of wisdom.

We're less likely to remind people of unsuccessful pieces, but on this occasion I'm going to.

Back on 22nd October last year I wrote a blog about hopes running high for a nuclear breakthrough with Iran.

The story, was based on sources in the International Atomic Energy Authority and the US State Department talking up the chances of Iran accepting a deal.

The idea was that Russia and France would reprocess their enriched uranium into things with civil uses, like medical isotopes, rather than military ones.

Chatting today to Ali Ansari, an Iran expert at the Royal Institute for International Affairs, he pointed out that the US State Department was insisting the offer stood a good chance of success because it, along with the rest of the Obama administration was desperate for a sign that the president's police of engagement was yielding results.

Three months on it has become clear quite how remote the hope of this nuclear offer being accepted were.

Its opponents in Tehran soon shot it down.

The violent aftershocks of June's Iranian presidential elections meanwhile have further poisoned the atmosphere.

Iran has continued with public show trials of democracy activists. These have included claims about US, UK, Zionist and even BBC plots against Iran.

Last week's Afghan conference in London might have given a chance for a resumption of diplomacy, but the Iranian foreign minister did not turn up and the US instead used the margins of the meeting to campaign for new sanctions against Iran.

So the Obama administration's engagement policy has yielded little by way of concessions from President Ahmadinejad and now seems to be mutating into something different, as the US State Department sherpas begin the long painful climb towards a new sanctions regime.

If the policy can be said to have achieved one thing it is that Barack Hussein Obama still does not look like a good fit for the Great Satan cap that Iranian ideologues reserve for the occupant of the White House.

The absence of Bush-style sabre rattling creates a political vacuum that anti-Western Iranians try to fill by linking their pro-democracy countrymen to alleged Western plots.

Where US policy is heading from here is not yet clear.

And given what I wrote back in October, I shall be quite careful before claiming I have spotted the new direction of travel.


  • Comment number 1.

    there is so much neglected, or just plain wrong with this post that it is impossible to know where to start. needless to say that it is the triumph of the "narrative" over any real analysis. the point is exposed at the end of the post: "....Barack Hussein Obama still does not look like a good fit for the Great Satan cap that Iranian ideologues reserve for the occupant of the White House."
    All the better to wage the next war. Nice touch adding the "Hussein" in there too Mark.
    It would've been nice, and accurate, of Mark to point out that the "opponents" of the nuclear deal include the leaders of the so-called "pro-democracy", and implied pro- western, Green movement, including Mousavi. But how would that fit with the narrative of an anti-Ahmedinejad, pro-western, pro- diplomacy, reformist movement?
    It would have been nice of Mark to say something about the letter written by Ahmedinejad to Obama when the latter won the US elections. But how would that fit in with the narrative, of a defiant, aggressive tyrant?
    It would have been nice of Mark to mention the changes that the Iranians have requested to the deal in order to sell it domestically. But how would that fit the narrative of an open-handed, diplomatic America, and an isolated belligerent Iran unwilling to negotiate?
    It would have been nice of Mark to mention Hillary Clinton's constant threat of "crippling sanctions" against Iran. But how would that fit with the narrative of Obama as a smiling Uncle Sam offering spurned engagement?
    How does one divide Iranians into "anti-western" and "pro-democracy"? So are conservative Iranians anti democracy because they voted for Ahmedinejad? And are the "pro-democrats" also pro-western? This is the narrative at work.
    We were sold a bag of coal by the BBC, and its correspondents toeing the official line on Iraq, never questioning conventional wisdom. Now it's clear to see that the lessons haven't been learned.

  • Comment number 2.

    yes mark does, it seems , sometimes pump out the necon castle FO hollywoodisation of iran [as seen in the iraq inquiry] that makes one sometimes wonder when and with what did they recruit him? mind you one supposes its pretty hard for the bbc to talk openly what most probably think in the newsroom from iran to 'climate science'. such are the editorial curfews.

    if one was iranian it would be pretty easy to be pretty anti western given the history of meddling, the apparently institutional islamaphobia and the double standards on nuclear related industry?

    given the currency manipulation designed to beggar the uk and the latest slapping down of obama over meeting the dalai lama one would have thought iran was very small beer [for the uk] about what it might do compared to what china is really doing?

  • Comment number 3.

    yup it looks like Iran is the next one, Tony let the cat out of the bag last Friday so it must be getting discussed, frothing at the mouth he was, he may be a millionaire many times over but he would sooner be doing his Dr Strangelove role....nukin the bad guys, beats the lecture tour anyday, it's a shame they don't need me anymore, can't they see the world needs me to protect it, the fools....don't they know they are only 45 minutes's clear and authorative....never mind what Clare says....

  • Comment number 4.


    tub thumping the neocon cause and the golden egg lecture circuit might be related? his iraq evidence is good for another year of bookings?

  • Comment number 5.

    The BBC doesn't cover this because it doesn't fit in with it's "narrative" on Iran but maybe we could get a reply from Mr. Urban on this interesting news item.

    "Qatari Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani in a meeting with Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani blasted aliens' efforts to create a rift among the Muslim states in the region.

    Speaking about issues like Persian and Arab or Shiite and Sunni is a game played by the alien countries and is totally baseless, Al-Thani, who was on a one-day visit to Iran said on Tuesday.

    Elsewhere, he referred to the "good and strong" bilateral ties between Iran and Qatar, and said that the prospect of friendly ties between the two countries is very clear.

    He underscored that the Islamic Iran has always been close to the Islamic world, and stressed, "Our religion is one, so our enemy would be certainly one, too." "-Fars News Agency.

    Qatar is one of the US allies to receive Patriot Anti-Missile systems recently.

  • Comment number 6.

    “Afghan conference in London… the Iranian foreign minister did not turn up” Why should the Iranians turn up when they know they have no control as to meeting’s outcome? Iran always viewed itself as the main proponent and devotee of Shiite Islam; their main scepticism of Western, non-Islam and secularist intentions vis-à-vis Iran is the perception that behind it is some Sunni Islam connivance. The Iranian clerics had always wondered why the sycophantic Western powers were so pushy in egging the last Shah of Iran to modernise his country, yet, these same sycophants: mainly the British Foreign Office and the US State Department; remained silent and respectful towards Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabist inclination. Till to-date, the notion that the Westerners are somehow in connivance with the Sunnis can never be dispelled.
    The 2001 overthrow of anti-Shiite Taliban in Afghanistan by USA and allies and the later 2003 invasion of Iraq were not viewed as succour, but, parts of the encirclement strategy of Iran. This will work best if Iran has no nuclear defensive capability!

  • Comment number 7.

    From the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland comes this report titled "Analysis of Multiple Polls Finds Little Evidence Iranian Public Sees Government as Illegitimate"

    "Steven Kull, director of PIPA, said, "Our analysis suggests that it would not be prudent to base US policy on the assumption that the Iranian public is in a pre-revolutionary state of mind."

    On the question of whether Ahmadinejad won the June 12 election, in the week before the election and after the election, in all polls a majority said they planned to or did vote for Ahmadinejad. These numbers ranged from 52 to 57% immediately before the election and 55 to 66% after the election.

    Steven Kull comments, "These findings do not prove that there were no irregularities in the election process. But they do not support the belief that a majority rejected Ahmadinejad.""

    Will the BBC report on ANY of this? Will Mr Urban comment on ANY of this? We live in hope.


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